Rats Live on No Evil Star It turned out they were eating birdseed that fell from the feeders while Cardinals and finches came and went. We watched them slide out from under the deck at dusk to collect all they could before booking it to the woodpile. So I took the feeders down, raked up the fallen seed, thinking I could drive them away with deprivation. Four nights in a row that week my son couldn’t fall asleep, but it had nothing to do with rats. He was anxious and grew panicked as hours passed and the rest of us slipped into sleep. Fear must’ve fed itself as he waited in bed, awake and alone night after night. I didn’t know what to do. I worked at empathy, which usually came easy, but he was thirteen and spent daylight hours muttering and stomping off. More nights passed, days, until one morning at the kitchen window I saw a rat nosing the lawn where the seed had been. Searching in clear daylight, tense and desperate. I called my son to come with me and we snuck outside, back around the house, but the rat saw us and bolted. We split and jumped, sudden herders, trying to keep it from getting into the garage. No more than ten seconds in all, our hearts beating fast and his glorious howl when I shrieked as the rat dove past my boot and disappeared beneath the neighbor’s fence. He tired himself laughing but still couldn’t fall asleep that night. I sat with him and told him the longest palindrome I knew, rats live on no evil star, and suggested he work it in his head back and forth letter by letter until sleep came, imagining kind rats, loving and loyal, bounding through the ether on a celestial quest. I don’t think it solved anything; he still had a hard time many nights after. But he eventually did sleep that night, and so did I, and days moved into weeks, punctuated by the usual dailiness. Soon I put the feeders back up, the finches and Cardinals happy to have them, and though I know they were likely still there, lurking in the night beneath the sky’s distant galaxies as my son struggled to sleep, we never saw another rat.
Mike Bove is the author of two full-length books of poetry: Big Little City (2018) and House Museum (2021). He lives with his family in Portland, Maine.